Now that California has become the first state in the nation to provide free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students, some food service staff are taking it a step further
Culinary Skills Training with LHPUSD Food Service Staff
By: Kathy Webster
Now that California has become the first state in the nation to provide free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students, some food service staff are taking it a step further and looking for ways to increase scratch cooking—freshly cooked meals rather than heat-and-serve—and incorporate locally grown, fresh foods into their menus. Our local school district, La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District (LHPUSD), is a small district that consists of three schools—Pescadero Elementary, La Honda Elementary, and Pescadero Middle/High School. Food service coordinator, Regina Silveira, and part-time assistant, Dinorah Gudino, work and prepare breakfast and lunch for all three schools.
Similar to other rural school districts, LHPUSD faces many challenges operating a meal program. One of the biggest challenges is limited staff size. With a small nutrition services team, rural districts often have less capacity to provide nutrition-related promotional activities, develop new recipes and menus, or shift procurement strategies in addition to preparing daily meals for students and keeping up with the paperwork that is required under the National School Lunch Program guidelines.
We recently reached out to Regina and Dinorah to see if they would be interested in professional development training with our new Chef Fellow, Isabelle Nunes—a chance to explore changes in a school’s lunch program and connect with their creative side. They said yes, and we scheduled the training for August 8th, right before students returned to school so that one of the dishes could be prepped for the next day’s lunch.
We selected three recipes from the Center for Ecoliteracy’s Rethinking School Lunch–Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools: Chicken Fajitas, Cucumber Jicama Lime salad, and Italian Meatballs with Whole Wheat Penne, showcasing Latin American and European/Mediterranean flavor profiles. Our goal was to introduce some new recipes and flavors with an opportunity for the school food team to taste the dishes, experiment with their own recipe variations, and explore new ways to incorporate local ingredients. We also discussed challenges in scratch cooking, such as food waste, prep time, and logistics—and how we can work together to overcome these challenges in our local school district.
The best part of the training was tasting the food together. We all agreed that these chosen menu additions would be a huge hit with the students! We plan to come back for a second training day in early January 2023.
At the end of the day, we all want to make sure the children of our community are getting the best, most nutritious food we can source and prepare; present it in such a way that they find it enjoyable to eat; and incorporate as many locally grown ingredients (in some cases, grown on farms where their parents work) as possible. We’re confident our continued collaboration with LHPUSD is a step in this direction!